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What is the origin of the phrase "filthy rich"?

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origin of filthy rich. Phrase Finder is good for this sort of thing. –  Matt Эллен May 9 '12 at 11:17
    
Related: What is the origin of “dirty money”? –  Callithumpian May 9 '12 at 14:24

1 Answer 1

As the link to Phrase Finder above explains, this phrase evolved from the phrase filthy lucre from the 1500s. Here's what Etymonline has on lucre:

lucre (n.)

late 14c., from L. lucrum "gain, advantage, profit; wealth, riches," from PIE root *lau- "gain, profit" (cf. Gk. apo-lanein "to enjoy," Goth. launs, Ger. lohn "wages, reward," and possibly Skt. lotam, lotram "booty"). Filthy lucre (Tit. i:11) is Tyndale's rendering of Gk. aischron kerdos.

As Phrase Finder explains:

Following on the the term "filthy lucre", money became known by the slang term "the filthy", and it isn't a great leap from there to the rich being called the "filthy rich". This was first used as a noun phrase meaning "rich people; who have become so by dishonourable means".

Phrase Finder claims a 1920s origin, but the two words can be found together in print from the early 1800s. This, however, is the earliest example I can find of it being used as a set phrase rather than as a description of rich people who are physically dirty. Here's a clip from A Certain Rich Man by William Allen White, 1909 (date check):

http://tinyurl.com/7whppee

And a final point worth noting from Phrase Finder:

As time went on the negative associations have softened somewhat. It has become to mean "extremely rich" rather than "dishonourably rich", although there may still be a trace of an unfavourable implication associated with it.

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Great answer. At present day, "filthy rich" feels close to "so rich it's unfair." –  user880772 May 10 '12 at 3:56

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